Oh, God. It’s a stag party
In the middle of the aisle is a young man, tall as a pine tree, swaying in tune with the train as it leaves King’s Cross.
His left palm is flat against the carriage ceiling while his right hand steadies half a bottle of vodka against his lips.
He begins to suck the vodka out of the bottle like a hungry calf. His cheeks sink and swell like an accordion. He leans back until the bottle is almost vertical over his head.
At this point, his posse of young male friends start to make a low mooing noise as the vodka disappears down his throat.
‘Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahoo,’ they moo.
As their chant reaches its climax so does he, pulling the empty bottle from his lips and spraying the last few drops of vodka and his spittle over the old couple sitting beside him.
His pals stand, applaud and cheer. He bows to them, his trousers sagging away from his buttocks and exposing his designer underpants.
He turns and bows to the rest of the carriage.
‘All gone,’ he says out loud with a triumphant grin.
The old couple stare ahead pretending they have heard nothing nor felt the vodka splashing over their shoulders.
It’s 10.30am on a Friday morning.
I’m booked on a train next to a stag do. How will I survive another two hours of this babel of boyish banter before I get out at York?
‘Why did he say: all gone?’ I ask very quietly.
The loathsome pine tree has sat down now, but he’s only three rows away. He might easily misunderstand my interest in him if he overhears me.
‘It’s what a four-year old would say when they wanted you to be pleased they’d eaten up all their greens,’ says Friend Number 2.
‘Oh, come on. They mean well. We were as bad when we were his age,’ says Friend Number 3.
‘Nonsense,’ I say. ‘We couldn’t afford vodka and our trousers never came off accidentally.’
This weekend is a return to the past
‘The worst that could happen,’ said my daughter, earlier that morning. ‘Is that you realise you have nothing in common with each other any longer. Which in a way is a positive. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to let go of the past.’
‘But I’ve got so little future that I really want to hold onto as much of my past as I can,’ I say.
‘If you see any of your old student jokes, bring them back. I’d like to see if your humour’s evolved over the last forty years,’ says my son.
‘It hasn’t,’ says my wife. ‘Two of your father’s jokes have been on permanent loan at the Jorvik Centre since 1985,’ says my wife.
‘Right,’ I say. ‘I’m off to spend the weekend with people who respect me.’
It’s a university reunion
There are five of us old university mates on the train for a reunion weekend away to York university, where we first met nearly forty years ago.
I’ve never been to a school or university reunion, but I imagine that it wouldn’t take much for things to get tricky.
A clash of political ideology or an unwise joke could easily upset the apple cart.
But, after Palmers Green, the conversation loosens up and we start to swap stories. The stag party are already numb to alcohol and have retreated into the ear plugs into their I Pods.
Friend Number 2 explains how he is due a hip replacement operation in a few weeks but is still looking forward to walking the Roman Walls and that we shouldn’t let his hips hold us back.
Friend Number 1 says she may have an arthritic shoulder because of the year she spent as a geriatric nurse and Labour councillor in Croydon lifting old folks on and off the toilet. But we’re not to worry because she can still use a knife and fork and so she won’t embarrass us at the posh river side restaurant we’re going to on Saturday night by asking us to feed her.
Friend Number 2 says that Number 1’s story reminds him that as part of his pre op hip replacement physiotherapy he is being taught how to sit on a raised toilet seat and pull his socks and trousers with ‘a pair of long tweezers, which is quite hard.’
We discuss each other’s illnesses
‘This is what they call an Organ Recital,’ I say. ‘When old people talk about how their organs are functioning.’
To keep the Organ Recital rolling, I bring everyone up to speed with my mother’s dementia, which reminds them of their own parents’ trials and tribulations with cancer, dementia, delusion and death. The party is pumping.
By the time we’ve rattled through all the medical conditions we are (or might soon be) suffering from including high blood pressure, poor cholesterol and early onset diabetes, we’re nearly at Doncaster.
As we pull into the station, I decide to share with them the story of my colonoscopy and the strangeness of watching your own innards on a TV screen, while you lie on a couch with a backless surgical gown.
‘What did they find?’ asks Friend Number 4.
‘Haemorrhoids,’ I say proudly.
As if he were trying to trump me in a game of cards Whist, Friend Number 2 points at a small purple bubble on his lower lip and says ‘Benign tumour.’
We arrive at York
When we arrive at York. The sun is shining and there are daffodils all over the rampart in front of the city walls. Our organ recital has brought us all closer together. We’ve literally got to know each other’s insides. What can stop us now from moving to an even deeper level of friendship?
We decide to have lunch in the pub opposite our old student digs and grab a cab.
Friend Number 5 turns to the cab driver and says: ‘We were students here forty years ago.’
Number 5 smiles as if he’s shared a life changing secret like the date of the Second Coming.
‘Is that so,’ says the driver with Yorkshire phlegm. ‘Unfortunately, this isn’t the Tardis so I can’t take you back to the past.